Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Blog Birthday!

In some ways I can't believe it's been a whole year since I started this little blog.

And, in other ways, I'm thinking, "What? it's only been a year?"

And what a year it's been .....

When I titled this photo, "Happy Feet" I wasn't just trying to be cute and clever. The fact that I was able to ski at all this winter is a pretty amazing thing. In the past year, not only did I learn to walk again, but more importantly, I learned who I could count on to hold me up along the way. And that has been the ultimate lifelong learning lesson.

Happy Birthday Happy Feet!

Monday, March 17, 2014

What's Better Than a Series? A Series Sequel!

To a reader, there is no better feeling than being totally bitten by a book and knowing that it is part of a SERIES! The story doesn't have to end when the last page has been turned. Wait! Maybe there is something to surpass that - a sequel to the series.

Hands down, one of the best purchases for my school library this past year has been Seven (The Series). This adventure series is unique in the fact that a common plot starter ties the narratives together; yet, each of the seven titles totally stands alone. Not only does each book feature a separate main character with his own adventure, but each title is written by a different author. Some of the top names in Canadian children's literature have collaborated to create Seven (The Series): Sigmund Brouwer, Norah McClintock, Shane Peacock, Richard Scrimger, Ted Staunton, Eric Walters, and John Wilson.

Naturally, readers are attracted to different characters, plot lines, and author styles. Students have been very vocal about sharing their favourites with me. This is where the true brilliance of the concept is shown - not only does it increase the potential audience, but it exposes readers to new authors to explore. The series has been well-received by both boys and girls, and since the titles may be read in any order, it has been a logistical gift to my Holds Shelf.

Now, along comes The Seven Sequels (Orca Book Publishers). I know I am going to have some happy students when this stand-alone series hits bookstores on October 1, 2014. The original series has as its starting point the death of beloved grandfather, David McLean. In his will, McLean leaves each of his seven teen-aged grandsons with an adventure or quest to complete. This time the grandsons have stumbled upon something so shocking that it makes them question who their grandfather really was. Before we know it the teenagers are off on seven more thrilling adventures to find the truth.

I was intrigued by the origins of this collaborative venture. Although the original series "came out of the blue," the sequels, according to Eric Walters were developed as the authors travelled together while promoting Seven. While their work is often done in solitude, they enjoyed the shared experience, appreciated the positive response to the series, and were eager to continue the tales. In true twenty-first century learning style, the authors brainstormed together and came up with a common starting point to kick off a sequel series.

Prior to the release of the original series, Orca uploaded monthly excerpts from the books onto their website. There may be plans to do this again with the sequel, so I suggest checking in regularly at the series' site: here.

The Seven Sequels. Orca Books, October 2014.
Audience: Ages 10-14

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lenin Lives Next Door

I've been pretty much immersed in kidlit this winter. Oh, and The Orenda - the thought-provoking, discussion-starting novel that was recently named winner of Canada Reads 2014. Time for a little levity. Time for a little martinis and mayhem. Time for Lenin Lives Next Door.

Leprosy tests, the Babushka Squad, cloud-chasers, and animal prints with deep décolletage? Were it not for my own Russian experiences, coupled with assurances from the author herself, I would have thought that the antics in Lenin Lives Next Door were indeed fabricated. But, as Ms. Eremeeva so succinctly puts it, "No one can make this shit up."

As a librarian, I struggled with how to classify this book: a work of fiction as the author states, or a creative rendering of her own experiences over the past two decades that she has lived as an American expat in Moscow? What I didn't struggle with, were her astute observations and wry commentary. If the title of the book wasn't intriguing enough, the first few pages had me totally hooked. The dream of a young girl to visit the land of troikas and samovars, onion domes and "sepia-skinned grand duchesses." At this point, the story could very easily have been written by my own devushka, Daughter1 - a young girl falling madly in love with Imperial Russia. A young girl who grew up dreaming about visiting the world's largest country, and didn't let anything stand in her way.

Don't be mistaken by thinking that Lenin is only for those who devoured Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra, or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; for those who learned to speak the Russian language, and studied it's long history and rich literature at university. No, no, no. This may have been what led the author to Russia, but what she writes about is the enigma that she discovered once supplanted there. And Ms. Eremeeva writes it in her own hilarious fashion, the style that she has honed on her popular blog Russia Lite.  Lenin is a collection of independent ramblings from a self-professed "people-watcher." She gives the reader the inside scoop on life in Moscow. From the discussions that I had during the Winter Olympics, with Canadians who had never been to Russia, this information is sorely lacking. Even our own educated media, while covering the Sochi Games, were heard to make such comments as, "the people are actually very welcoming - I'm not sure if they are forced to be." (As an aside, I think if I were paid to cover the Olympic games, I would have done a lot of research, and wouldn't assume that what I found in a fabricated resort town was indicative of a whole country that happens to be twice the size of Canada).

I discovered Russia Lite (and her companion blog The Moscovore ) when Daughter1 was living out her own expat experiences in Russia's capitol. In fact, I consider myself one of Jennifer's "friends in cyberspace" whom she mentions in her Acknowledgements. Many of the vignettes in Lenin were first created on the blog. The "Why I Hate Dachas" post translates into the "Dachaphobia" chapter in the book. Both versions are laugh-out-loud funny. She also happens to have an excellent grasp on Russian history and international current affairs which she weaves into her narratives. The affect is that this is a person with whom you can envision having a fun and intellectual conversation.

While sipping lattés at the Starbucks on The Arbat, or martinis at Café Pushkin, you could ask the author, because "no one ever, ever, does" about the title. How did she come up with Lenin Lives Next Door? Or, you could read the book. The answer could only happen in Russia.

Eremeeva, Jennifer. Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow. Amherst, Mass.: Small batch Books, 2014. 285p.

Genre: Creative Non-fiction

Audience: Adult

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Great Upheaval: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918

I excitedly headed out on an excursion with my parents the other morning. A visit to a well-respected art gallery to view an exhibition I was dying to see; followed by lunch. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? And it was, except for the fact that we didn't make it to that gallery, or that exhibit.

After some minutes on the highway I asked my Dad which route he was planning on taking. His answer confused me, and it was then that I realized we weren't going where I thought we were going. Our wires had gotten crossed. Translation: I received the invitation from my Mother, and God love her, she really didn't know where we were going, other than to look at art and then to hit the main event - lunch.

My Dad, the first and most impressionable lifelong learner that I've ever had the joy to know, had his sights set on getting to The AGO to see The Great Upheaval before it left Toronto at the end of the weekend and returned to its home at The Guggenheim in New York. And although I had had my sights set on a totally different collection, I was very moved by these European pieces from 1910-1918 and was so  happy that I hadn't missed them.

From the AGO website:

Historically, it is a period that has always fascinated me. And I found putting the artwork into that context an intriguing and enjoyable exercise. It was extremely busy on Friday morning - well-behaved school groups mixed with a very large public gallery of viewers. It wasn't always easy to stand exactly where one would prefer to stand, but I guess that's a good sign, and was to be expected.

The pieces that stood out the most for me? I think I would have to say the works of Vasily Kandinsky. On such a frigid winter day (yes, it's still winter and still frigid in Ontario), I really appreciated the use of such vibrant colours. It certainly enticed me to do some further reading on the artist once I returned home.

And that other gallery with the other exhibition? That would be the Mary Pratt show at the McMichael in Kleinburg, Ontario. Lucky for me, I have until April 27 to make it to that one.

By the way, our lunch was absolutely fantastic and enjoyed by all.